GREG'S GRADE: C
Packed with enough murders, betrayals and more murders to fill several seasons of "The Sopranos," or at least a three-hour Martin Scorsese epic, "The Kitchen" feels a lot longer than its 102 minute running time.
The movie — written and directed by Andrea Berloff ("Straight Outta Compton"), based on a DC Vertigo comic book series — introduces its setting of the New York City neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen in 1978 and the marriages of mob wives Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss); shows the arrests of their gangster husbands, Jimmy (Brian d'Arcy James), Kevin (James Badge Dale) and Rob (Jeremy Bobb), respectively; and then ships them off to prison for three years. And that's just in the first 10 minutes.
Local mob boss Little Jackie (Myk Watford) promises to take care of them while their husbands are away, but when the envelopes of cash slipped under their doors are lighter than expected, the women decide to take over their husbands' rackets and then some. Naturally, those in charge don't take kindly to their activities, including the men running things in Hell's Kitchen and their Italian partners in Brooklyn.
The three women, though, prove to be as ruthless as any man, and with the guidance of hitman Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson), back in town after a "cooling off" period following his latest job, the body count grows.
Claire, the victim of frequent physical abuse at the hands of her husband Rob, quickly takes to killing, with Gabriel serving as her mentor and more. Ruby, who as a black woman from Harlem is even more of an outsider than the others, tolerates Kevin's philandering and her mother-in-law's (Margo Martindale) scorn with indifference. She's just been biding her time and is more prepared than anyone to seize the power that's within her reach. Only Kathy has any semblance of love in her marriage, and she's willing to go to extreme lengths to protect her two young children and her burgeoning empire.
McCarthy and Haddish usually equal comedy, but "The Kitchen" casts them against type in this deadly serious scenario. McCarthy fares the best, which is no surprise considering she's shown range before, most recently with her Oscar-nominated turn in last year's "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" Haddish seems less confident, but she's also given less to work with. Moss, meanwhile, gives a deeply unsettling performance as Claire is seduced by a newfound power that manifests in something resembling psychosis.
The performances and the empowering story of "The Kitchen" aren't the problem. Berloff simply stuffs the movie with too much plot for any of it to take hold as it rushes from one point to the next. There's also a thread involving two FBI agents (Common, E.J. Bonilla) that barely qualifies as a subplot, thus failing to justify its ultimate importance.
A TV series, which would allow time for the story to breathe and develop the characters, would have been a better fit for this material. As it stands, "The Kitchen" accomplishes the rare feat of simultaneously being too much and not enough.
Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content. 102 minutes.
Like Maki at the Movies on Facebook: www.facebook.com/MakiAtTheMovies.